Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Contract, Contracts’ Category

That story about the north Louisiana contractor who was drummed out of business by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and subsequently sued and won a $20 million judgment only to have it overturned on appeal just gets curiouser and curiouser with a couple of really bizarre developments.

Jeff Mercer, a Mangham contractor who had six contracts totaling nearly $9 million for which he was never paid, said his problems began when he complained that DOTD inspector Willis Jenkins attempted to shake him down to “put some green” in his hand or that Mercer place a new electric generator “under his carport” the following day.”

You can read the initial LouisianaVoice story by clicking HERE.

Mercer, armed with emails and other correspondence, filed suit against DOTD, claiming there was collusion among DOTD officials to “make the jobs as costly and difficult as possible” for him. A 12-person jury in 4th Judicial District Court in Monroe unanimously returned with an AWARD of $20 million in Mercer’s favor in 2015.

The jury, employing such terms as “collusion,” “bribery,” “extortion,” “conspiracy,” and “corruption,” not only held DOTD liable for damages, but also held four individual DOTD employees—Willis Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Barry Lacy and John Eason—personally liable.

But wait. Judge Henry N. Brown, as Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, had the responsibility of assigning cases and in Mercer’s case, he chose to assign it to himself—and wrote the decision that didn’t just reduce but obliterated the award in its entirety in OVERTURNING the lower court verdict.

Brown’s logic was that Mercer still had his contractor’s license and was still free to bid on state jobs. But when that same contractor is owed $9 million that the state refuses to pay him, he can’t meet payroll and he can’t purchase—or keep—equipment needed to perform the work. Nor can he afford worker’s comp and liability insurance.

Mercer says he was forced to sell off all his equipment—backhoes, trackhoes, dozers, trucks, etc. He estimates he lost another $2 million by being forced to sell his equipment for less than its real value. So, he is effectively out of business, Judge Brown’s opinion notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit in which Mercer still seeks payment of the $9 million that he’s never been paid makes its way slowly through the legal system.

The only problem with that was Judge Brown’s failure to recuse himself or even disclose his huge potential bias stemming from the fact that his father, Henry N. Brown, Sr., had been a civil engineer for DOTD for 44 years which “undermines the very fabric of our people’s faith in the judicial integrity of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal,” according to a MEMORANDUM in Support of Application for Rehearing and a Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s Opinion filed by Mercer’s attorney, David Doughty of Rayville.

At the trial, attorneys for both Mercer and for DOTD specifically asked each potential juror if they or any member of their family had ever worked for DOTD. “That was the first question asked every potential juror,” Mercer says. “If anyone answered yes, they were immediately excused.”

The case took 30 days to try, with thousands and thousands of pages of testimony. Yet, the Brown’s decision was rendered only 22 days after the appeal was filed, making it likely that he cherry-picked what he wanted to write since it was highly doubtful that the entire trial record could have been adequately reviewed in such a short time. The alternative would be that an attorney for DOTD drafted the decision for him and he signed off on it.

All of which can justifiably be labeled old news, already thoroughly rehashed on this site, right?

Right.

Except for a couple of recent news stories that loop right back into Mercer’s original claim of corruption, favoritism, bribery, extortion and otherwise unethical behavior by those in control of the dollars and the legal system.

Like this STORY from October 1 by KTBS-TV in Shreveport.

Judge Henry Brown was ordered by the Louisiana Supreme Court to vacate the Second Circuit Court of Appeal building in downtown Shreveport and to refrain from taking any further judicial actions after complaints that he had created a hostile environment toward colleagues who were hearing the appeal of a civil lawsuit against one of his friends from whom Brown had purchased a home.

Although Brown had recused himself from hearing the appeal because of the obvious conflict, members of the court found evidence that computer files where judges’ memos and drafts of opinions are kept had been hacked. A law clerk who worked for Brown was subsequently fired and banned from the courthouse.

And then there was this STORY by WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge that showed that one of the defendants in Mercer’s lawsuit may have had a too-cozy relationship with a DOTD contractor who manages to keep getting contracts through the agency despite repeated fines for failure to complete jobs on time.

The television station showed several photographs of DOTD engineer Barry Lacy on fishing trips, hunting trips, and at crawfish boils, and golf tournaments with officials of Coastal Bridge of Baton Rouge.

Lacy was one of four DOTD employees who were held personally liable in Mercer’s lawsuit.

DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said that while Lacy has no authority to award contracts to firms, he does make recommendations on such decisions.

It was not immediately clear if Lacy received the hunting and fishing trips or invitations to the crawfish boils or golf tournaments as gratuities but numerous OPINIONS by the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics have repeatedly said that “no public servant shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or from any officer, director agent, or employee of such person if such public servant knows or reasonably should know that such person:

  • Has or is seeking to obtain contractual or other business or financial relationships with the public servant’s agency, or
  • Is seeking, for compensation, to influence the passage or defeat of legislation by the public servant’s agency.”

Meanwhile, Mercer, who was only trying to make a living, has been put out of business by a system that seems to consistently disregard the tenets of human decency, fair treatment, and equal opportunity in favor of preferential treatment, prestige, and power—with little or no consideration of the human consequences.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

First and foremost, there is nothing in the job description requirements that says the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) must—or should—be a physician.

Nor does the state receive any benefit from the secretary’s maintaining a medical license or credentials and board certifications.

So, why should the head of the state’s largest department devote so much time, effort, and manpower on attempts to secure her professional credentials outside her state job?

Dr. Rebekah Gee was appointed Secretary of LDH by Gov. John Bel Edwards in January 2016 as he came to office. Prior to that, she was employed by the LSU HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER (LSUHSC) in New Orleans where she served as an obstetrician/gynecologist and as assistant professor of health policy and management.

So, it stands to reason that any attempt by LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee to pursue negotiations with LSU to retain her medical license, credentials, and board certifications through continued part-time employment as a physician at LSUHSC would be done on her own behalf and at her personal legal expenses.

Certainly, rank-and-file state employees must adhere to strict guidelines regarding the use of state computers, email addresses and telephone numbers—not to mention the taboo of calling on state attorneys to do private legal work on state time and state equipment.

Instead, following her appointment as secretary, she apparently directed the department’s legal counsel to pursue negotiations with LSU on her behalf on state time and using his state email address and signing off on his email correspondence with LSU as the executive counsel for the department.

Included in the email thread were negotiations on Dr. Gee’s behalf for her to retain her tenure at LSU (pretty difficult, considering her status was reduced to unpaid volunteer) and for LSU to pony up the premiums to keep her medical malpractice insurance from lapsing—a pretty generous financial windfall in its own right.

And all that doesn’t even address the apparent conflict of interest in her performing work for an agency overseen by—and which receives funding from—the department which she now heads.

As they say, rank does have its privileges and the series of emails back and forth between executive counsel Stephen Russo and LSU officials appears pretty rank.

Gee’s APPOINTMENT was announced on Jan. 5, 2016, and before she could even get settled into her office, the email campaign by Russo had begun in earnest.

At 3:12 p.m. on Jan 13, Russo emailed LSUHSC Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier to ask “if there is anything you need from us regarding Dr. Gee. My understanding is that she will not be receiving compensation for providing services at the LSU clinic. If that is the case, that is a good starting point to make sure we are well clear of any issues…”

At 5:15 p.m. that same day, Hollier responded: “Dr. Gee will receive a ‘gratis appointment’ and will not receive compensation from LSUHSC. She would like to still see patients to maintain her medical licensure; we are happy to have her see patients. Would there be any ‘conflict of interest’ or other issues since, as Sect. of DHH (since renamed LDH), she ‘oversees’ Medicaid payments to LSUHSC?”

The following day, Jan. 14, LSUHSC General Counsel Katherine Muslow emailed Russo at 1:36 p.m. to say, “In addition to the prohibitions provided in the Governmental Code of Ethics, the incompatibility provisions of (state statutes) should also be reviewed for applicability.”

She then went on to list six “incompatibility provisions” which she seemed to feel would prohibit Dr. Gee from working even as a volunteer for an agency partially funded by the department that she headed.

On Jan. 15, Russo, still on the state clock at 1:28 p.m. and still on a state computer, wrote LSUHSC General Counsel Katherine Muslow and others from his state email account to ask that “y’all email or telephone us and let is (sic) know the legal relationship today between y’all and secretary gee (sic).”

At 1:40 p.m., Dr. Hollier emailed Russo to reiterate that Dr. Gee “is our gratis faculty with no compensation.”

Two minutes later, Russo, apparently having not fully digested the content of Muslow’s list of reasons why Dr. Gee could not work for LSU (and too excited to bother with punctuation), responded to Hollier: “Super so she is not contract or anything but like any other faculty just not compensated?”

He finally got around to responding to Muslow at 6:32 p.m. that day: “Good deal. I am sending to my ethics folks. I have not been talking with the attorney general and have not sought a formal ethics opinion.”

On Jan. 19, Russo was back at it early, emailing Hollier at 8:33 a.m. to discuss the termination of the contract between LDH and LSUHSC for the Medicaid Medical DIRECTOR position, the position Dr. Gee had held at LSUHSC. “Before we date and send the contract termination,” he wrote, “the Secretary (Dr. Gee) would like for me to confirm the following:

  1. Her current LSU title;
  2. Her tenure status;
  3. The dates when she can begin clinic.”

At 9:48 a.m., Hollier responded: “She is an Associate Professor, gratis appointment. She had tenure but loses that since she is not Full Time; but whenever she returns to FT (full time), I will simply restore her Tenure. She will arrange to see patients two half-days a month, starting I believe after the special session. I am waiting for final clearance from LSU System Counsel.”

The news about Gee’s loss of tenure must’ve thrown Dr. Gee and by extension, Russo, into a tizzy. On Jan 21 at 2:54 p.m., Russo emailed Hollier: “Can yall’s (sic) lawyers look at this tenure issue again? It is obviously a little worrisome that she would be ‘losing’ tenure. Personally, your word is good as gold to me but what if you have moved to greater adventures.”

“I am happy to have it reviewed again,” answered Hollier at 3:48 p.m., “but regs say tenure only for full time employees. I will see what other options might be available.”

So, bottom line, what we have here is the secretary of a state department:

  • Working for an agency over which her department has jurisdiction;
  • Attempting to retain tenure from her old job even though state regulations clearly say an employee must be full time to earn or keep tenure;
  • Attempting to have the state pay for her medical malpractice insurance;
  • Instructing a subordinate (legal counsel Stephen Russo) perform private legal work on state time and on state equipment on behalf of her efforts to retain private part time employment.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would say, you can’t make this stuff up.

Read Full Post »

Physicians Health Foundation (PHF), which for years has abetted the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners in targeting vulnerable medical practitioners in a manner reminiscent of the tactics employed by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, now finds itself in the crosshairs of State Sen. John Milkovich (D-Shreveport).

Both boards have for years flown under the radar of governors, legislators and the media but more and more, attention is being given to their near-autonomous rule by intimidation and extortion.

PHF, also known as the Healthcare Professionals’ Foundation of Louisiana (HPFL), is located on Bluebonnet Boulevard in Baton Rouge and it currently is about halfway through a three-year, $1.35 million contract with the Board of Medical Examiners to run a “Statewide Operations of Physicians Health Program.”

And, since the Board of Dentistry has been mentioned, it might be worth noting that PHF also is just over a year into a three-year, $287,000 contract with that board to “develop, create and administer the Dental Health Professional Monitoring Program.”

By its own admission in a lawsuit to be discussed later in this post, it is not a treatment facility. So, just what does PHF (or HPFL) do to earn its money?

Well, for the Board of Medical Examiners, it appears to extract huge fees from medical professionals (which includes doctors, physician assistants, podiatrists, medical psychologists, dentists and dental hygienists) who are found to have addiction problems or who the board deems to have committed other transgressions.

And since its contract with the Board of Medical Examiners includes dentists, it is unclear why there is a need for a separate $287,000 contract with the Dentistry Board.

But like the Dental Board, the Board of Medical Examiners has set itself up as accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury in investigating complaints and handing down its decisions. Again, like the Dental Board, the Board of Medical Examiners even conducts its own hearings whenever a doctor appeals one of its decisions.

And the board remains a stellar undefeated record in 20 years of reviews of its decisions that are appealed.

Which probably is the reason Sen. Milkovich feels the need for his SB 286, which would establish a Physicians’ Bill of Rights designed to protect their rights whenever they are brought under the scrutiny of the board. More about that shortly.

In addition to its ability to suspend licenses of medical professionals, the board wields a big stick in its ability to coerce licensees into signing consent agreements to enter into rehab.

And those consent agreements often come with large price tags in the form of fees and penalties. Many state regulatory boards, the Board of Medical Examiners and the Dentistry Board included, receive their budgets not from legislative appropriations but from membership fees and financial penalties assessed against members accused and convicted of violations, some of which, though minor, still carry large fines.

Doctors and other medical practitioners apparently are referred to the rehab centers by PHF (or HPFL) whose spokesperson indicated to LouisianaVoice that it has a list of approved facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, among others.

PHF’s $1.35 million contract with the Medical Board runs from Aug. 1, 2016 through July 31, 2019.

One of those rehab centers is PALMETTO Addiction Recovery Center in Rayville.

That facility became involved in a lawsuit in 2009 after one of its staff members. Dr. Douglas Wayne Cook became sexually involved with one of the center’s patients. The husband of the victim sued Cook, who is no longer with Palmetto but who does continue to have a private practice in Richland Parish.

 

Milkovich’s bill, already reported out of committee favorably, is scheduled to be brought before the entire Senate on Monday.

“Under Louisiana’s current board system, physicians often face an uneven playing field, rigged proceedings, and a stacked deck,” Milkovich said. “Licensed, dedicated and highly qualified professionals may have their licenses threatened, suspended, or revoked, based on false accusations, anonymous complaints, and spurious charges. Doctors are often administratively charged by the board without even being informed of the identity of their accusers, the evidence against them, or even the substance of the accusations brought against them. This injustice is compounded by the heavy-handed and inequitable tactics employed by some Board staff.

“We understand that there must be a fair and sound disciplinary process for physicians, to protect the public. However, the goal of board proceedings for physicians should be impartiality, fairness, and integrity—not intimidation, falsification, and inequity.

“The aim of SB 286 is to level the playing field, un-stack the deck and render the Board’s adjudication of doctors more transparent. Everyone deserves Due Process. And that includes doctors.”

The bill, according to the BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE, would require stricter communication requirements during board investigations and would require that the board provide physicians under investigation written notice of complaints within 10 days or receipt. Moreover, the bill would require that the board reveal the identity of the complainant and would prohibit ex parte communications by board members prior to a hearing on the pending investigation.

One critic of the board, Dr. Greg Stephens said criminals and terrorists receive “more due process than we give doctors.” He and his former boss, Dr. John Gianforte, said they were coerced into consenting to voluntary license suspensions and mandated substance abuse treatment without either being allowed to give their side of the story.

They were suspended following claims that Stephens allowed unqualified staff members to write and sign prescriptions in his name while serving as medical director at a clinic in Shreveport when in fact, the prescription pad was stolen by two employees and Stephens’ name forged. Gianforte said the two employees were fired and one was later charged by law enforcement authorities.

Milkovich even cited a case where a New Orleans physician practicing at Tulane Medical Center committed suicide last November. His license was summarily suspended in June following an investigation but was reinstated in October. By then, however, the doctor had lost privileges, positions and future opportunities as a result of the investigation, the senator said.

In another case, the family of another doctor filed suit against PFL when the doctor, informed that he had had tested positive for drug use, committed suicide a few hours later. The doctor’s family was told by PFL that its programs and personnel had statutorily qualified immunity from legal liability regarding their activities and that they were further protected by a release and a hold-harmless agreement with the Physicians Health Program.

RAMEY V. DECAIRE

PHF was successful in getting the Louisiana Supreme Court to rule that it was exempt under the peremptory exception of no cause of action and the family’s lawsuit was dismissed. PHF, apparently not satisfied with merely winning, then went after the family for legal sanctions, claiming their suit was frivolous and without reasonable good faith. The trial court denied PHF’s motion and PHF appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the trial court and assessed costs against PHF.

Read Full Post »

A lawsuit making its way through U.S. District Court in Lafayette alleges that a female employee, Jordan Carter, was dismissed from her job at Swiftships, LLC in Morgan City because she was pregnant and management did not want to grant her maternity leave.

The lawsuit, which also says Carter was promoted prior to her pregnancy but never received a promised increase in pay that was supposed to go along with the promotion, carries far more significance that your normal discrimination lawsuit, however.

Between fiscal year 2007 through 2016, Swiftships held seven federal CONTRACTS totaling $386 million. Those included $103.4 million in contracts with the U.S. NAVY for non-nuclear ship repair. The duration of those contracts ran from Sept. 22, 2014, through March 20, 2018.

Carter was employed by Swiftships for nearly 21 months, from April 22, 2013, to Jan. 9, 2015.

Prior to her termination, she was demoted. She said her supervisor told her she was demoted because of her pregnancy.

One witness told Smith that she was aware of two other pregnant women who were terminated by Swiftships prior to giving birth.

Federal contracting regulations strictly prohibit employee discrimination in any form.

  • Last April 24, Swiftships was awarded a $27.4 million modification to a previously-awarded contract “for the accomplishment of continuous lifecycle support for the Iraqi Navy.” The shipbuilding firm is providing TECHNICAL EXPERTISE in preventative and planned maintenance, repairs and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, offshore vessels, and defender boats. Work under the contract, which was scheduled for completion this month, was performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq.
  • In October 2015, the U.S. Navy EXTENDED Swiftship’s contract to operate and upgrade a repair facility for Iraqi patrol boats built in Morgan City. The one-year extension was worth almost $11 million for Swiftships.
  • Swiftships has delivered almost 300 vessels through Foreign Military Sales, (FMS) the preferred method for selling defense systems abroad.

Under FMS, the Department of Defense procures defense articles and services for the foreign customer using the same acquisition process used to procure for its own military needs.

Recent policy changes in the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations have opened the door to foreign governments, allowing them to participate in FMS procurement negotiations. In general, the government-to-government purchase agreements tend to ensure standardization with U.S. forces; provide contract administrative services that may not be available through the private sector; and help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD. DCS allows the foreign customer more direct involvement during the contract negotiation phase; may allow firm-fixed pricing and may be better suited to fulfilling non-standard requirements.

The President designates countries and international organizations eligible to participate in the FMS program. The Department of State makes recommendations and approves individual programs on a case-by-case basis. Currently, around 160 countries are eligible to participate in FMS.

The Carter lawsuit is not the first litigation in which Swiftships was named as a defendant.

  • In 2015, Swiftships found LIABLE for $2.1 million in unpaid fees owed to MTU America, plus more than $400,000 in legal fees.
  • Last month, Swiftships, with annual revenues of $50 million, was found liable for $689,000 plus legal interest and legal fees for BREACH OF CONTRACT.
  • In June 2015,Valerie Landreneau, a female employee of Swiftships’ Morgan City facilities, filed suit in state district court against Swiftships after claiming that a former co-worker attacked her after learning about her SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaints against him.

If Carter or Landreneau should prevail in either or both of their harassment lawsuits, an adverse decision could result in the cancellation of hundreds of millions of federal contracts currently held by Swiftships.

Carter is represented by attorney J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge who has also claimed (though not in the lawsuit itself) that he has been informed that Swiftships “raids employees’ 401K accounts in order to remain afloat (no pun intended) but has failed to repay the money. Smith says a witness has informed him that Swiftships employees have had their 401K funds “borrowed” and used “to run the company,” and that “many of the employees did not get their money reimbursed as promised.”

Federal law also prohibits companies from raiding employee retirement and/or insurance funds.

Read Full Post »

Louisiana residents victimized by floods and hurricanes don’t need a reminder of the frustrating-ineptness of the Feeble Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or of the soul-crushing corruption of the Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination (HUD).

FEMA trailers, more appropriately designed as egg incubators than dwellings for human beings, stand as mute testimony to mismanagement on a grand scale. At a COST of $150,000 to $170,000 per trailer, including purchase and set-up following the 2016 flood, only to SELL the units for as little as $5,000 each a year later, it’s difficult to imagine even the Pentagon being able to match FEMA in a waste-for-waste competition.

With 144,000 trailers PLACED following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, and another 4,500 (upgrades vastly superior to the earlier models but still little better than a tent) following the 2016 floods, one can readily see how FEMA now claims to be broke.

Another reason? Try this: Following Hurricane Katrina, The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square) after Katrina. That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

In normal circumstances, MIKE LOWERY, an estimator for an Austin, Texas, company, said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that couldn’t be readily calculated.

FEMA ISSUED 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker ($14.2 million total cost: $8.1 million for Shaw as opposed to $162,000 for those who did the actual work).

But if you think that’s bad, consider this: “Overall, Restore Louisiana (the program set up to assist flood victims) has awarded $207 million of the $1.3 billion allotment from the federal government to homeowners,” according to a story in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Of that amount, only $60.5 million has actually been paid to those driven out of their homes by the floods. The remaining $147 million is being paid in increments to contractors as work progresses.

At the same time, however, the state has shelled out $75 million to IEM, the contracted administrator for environmental reviews and program management. That means administrative costs are 23.4 percent higher than the amount actually spent helping flood victims. Said another way, the amount spent on actual work is only 80 percent of administrative costs so far.

IEM’s total contract to administer the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana program is for an eye-popping $308 million. That computes to administrative costs that are 19.25 percent of the total contract but which appear to be running closer to 26.6 percent at the present time.

Contrast that, if you will, with contracts the Ruston firm of Hunt, Guillot has received to date to administer Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the recovery of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike and to administer CDBG funds for the Restore Louisiana program set up immediately following the 2016 floods.

Hunt, Guillot received a contract for $18.2 million to administer the disbursement of $7.5 billion in grant funds for LOUISIANA. That contract ran from Oct. 31, 2007, to Oct. 30, 2010. The firm was given an additional contract of $3 million for the period of Feb. 1, 2011, through June 3, 2011 for Katrina and Rita recovery grant funds. IEM’s $308 million contract is 14.5 times the size of Hunt, Guillot’s $21.2 million in contracts even though Hunt, Guillot oversaw the disbursement of nearly six times the amount in federal grants that IEM is responsible for.

IEM’s contract was not without CONTROVERSY, but it probably didn’t hurt that IEM and the company’s CEO, Madhu Beriwal, combined to contribute $15,000 to the campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But even putting aside all the outrageous administrative costs that are eating up dollars intended to help flood victims, here is the one overriding factor that leads writers like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and others to write INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS about the incestuous relationship between natural disasters and corruption?

Could it be that 19 months after thousands of Louisiana residents were forced out of their homes in South Louisiana, only $207 million of a total allocation of $1.3 billion for reconstruction has been approved and checks written for only $60 million even as administrative costs mount?

Could it be that a visit to observe activities at Restore Louisiana headquarters reminds visitors of the organizational skills of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab?

Could it be the frustration encountered by State Rep. Rogers Pope who, first told he qualified for an SBA loan of $250,000 (even though he never applied) but later told it was actually for a lesser amount, responded that he was not interested in a loan of any description but that $50,000 was nevertheless deposited in his bank account by the SBA—and when he insisted again that he did not want the money, was charged $384 in interest for the week that it was in his bank account? (for those of you who may be wondering, that computes to an annual interest rate of 40 percent.) And get this: Pope is a member of the Restore Louisiana Task Force and even he can’t deal with the feds.

Could it be that an applicant who applied for assistance was told that because he had obtained an SBA loan of $124,000, he was ineligible for a grant? The person in question here was yours truly and I was told that the loan was considered a benefit. I’m a 74-year-old retiree on a fixed income, with a brand-new $124,000 mortgage and I’m supposed to consider that a benefit?

What’s more, I’m told, even if I had been offered the loan, and turned it down, I’d still be ineligible because it was offered. (I think that’s what’s called a Catch-22.) And just to add insult to injury, I was told (after at least four separate on-site inspections by FEMA, Restore Louisiana, and Shelter at Home) I was only allowed $60,000 for reconstruction (someone needs to tell my contractor who charged what I considered to be a reasonable fee of $90,000 to make my home livable again—the remainder went to replace furniture and appliances).

I was told at the time of receiving the news of my ineligibility that I could, of course, appeal. “But the appeal won’t do any good,” the nice man said, “because we’re only going by the rules established by FEMA and HUD guidelines.” (A Catch-22 variable.)

It’s the kind of FUBAR guvmint that can send you to a padded room where you’re allowed only crayons as a means of communication.

And if you think I’m angry, consider the frustration level of Stephen Winham of St. Francisville.

Winham, often a LouisianaVoice guest columnist, for 12 years was the state’s budget director, serving under three governors, so he, of all people, should be accustomed to navigating the confusing waters of state bureaucracy. He was, nevertheless, finally moved to send the following email to an official of Restore Louisiana:

I have NEVER seen as poorly run a program as Restore Louisiana and I have seen some poorly run programs in my 21 years of state budget analysis.  If the contractor for whom you work represents the benefits of privatizing public services we are in deep manure, particularly since our worst governor ever, Bobby Jindal, moved us to new heights in that direction.

I have talked on the phone and communicated with your company many times.  I did not initially apply because I knew I was not eligible.  I allowed one of your employees to talk me into applying anyhow, so I did – I assume this was done to get the numbers up.  In subsequent steps, it was confirmed I was never eligible and should never have bent to the pressure put on me to apply.  In other words, I was officially ruled ineligible months ago.

This correspondence and any phone conversations I might have with you would be a waste of my time – your company is apparently going to get its money no matter what so I have no interest in saving you money.  Your company has spent $75 million on itself so far and only disbursed $60 million to the people who really need it – the homeowners.  Do you not see a problem with that?

Although I am not eligible, I have a sister-in-law who is.  My wife and I have tried to help her work through the many meaningless steps necessary to get her Restore Louisiana grant and she has not gotten a dime yet.  My wife has hauled her down to Celtic Studios more than once.  She has had visits from what I assume are project managers/coordinators many times.  She has completed the necessary paperwork at every step.  She has been advised of the amount of her “award” (her part of the $207 million in reported awards, $147 million of which apparently remain undisbursed), but has gotten ZERO.  The people who live across the street from my East Baton Rouge property just started LAST WEEK on work to restore their home pursuant to their Restore Louisiana “award”

I think your company is taking the public for a ride – oh, I know, this is federal money – I am doing my federal taxes today – I guess that never was my money to begin with, or something.  These things should be block granted.  If the eligible recipients take their grants down to a convenient casino and blow it rather than fixing their homes, that’s their problem and it is also better than creating what to me is essentially a pyramid of contractors and sub-contractors each getting their golden crumbs as the grants trickle down to the people who should be getting the money.

Sorry for taking this out on you and you probably haven’t even read this far, but on the off chance you have, LEAVE ME ALONE and devote your attention to eligible recipients many of whom have been waiting over a year and a half for relief.

Your federal—and state—guvmint hard at work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. The best we can hope for is that we never need the their “help” in the future.

(Editor’s note: for the record, a class-action lawsuit is being considered because of the discriminatory policies of HUD and FEMA. More details on that as they are forthcoming.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »